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Vodafone Plans NFC Payments Service in Australia

Vodafone is the first mobile operator in Australia to disclose plans for a commercial NFC payment launch, though it has not announced a target date for when it plans to launch the service.

The operator announced its NFC-enabled SmartPass app Tuesday, which will put a Visa payWave prepaid application issued by ANZ bank on Vodafone-issued NFC SIM cards. Subscribers would be able to fund the card with other Visa- or MasterCard-branded accounts. The telco is trialing the service with the Samsung Galaxy S III among about 100 Vodafone and Visa employees.

“We are still working through this detail,” a Vodafone Hutchison Australia spokeswoman told NFC Times of the planned commercial launch. “It could launch as early as next year depending on the success of our precommercialization program.”

Thomas Roets, general manager of strategy, planning and business development for the operator, predicted that 80% of new smartphones Vodafone sells next year to postpaid subscribers will be NFC-enabled. He reportedly said these will mainly be Android and Windows Phone 8 phones.

There are more than 100,000 contactless terminals in Australia that support Visa payWave, according to Vodafone and Visa, which gives Australia one of the highest penetrations of contactless terminals worldwide. All or most of the same terminals would support MasterCard PayPass, as well.

The Vodafone Australia spokeswoman said she could not comment on any other applications the telco plans to offer alongside payment, citing “commercial reasons.”

But Vodafone’s Roets was quoted in a blog post Tuesday discussing some possible nonpayment applications: “NFC technology has the capability to address some of the pain points of modern commerce, such as tracking and getting more mileage out of loyalty schemes or taking advantage of retail offers, which currently come to us in various forms, making it difficult for us to use.”

Vodafone Group has a global partnership with Visa to roll out mobile payment. But it is not exclusive, and Visa plans to support other telcos in Australia in rolling out NFC.

ANZ bank in October said it planned to launch another NFC trial, this one with only about 25 employees, putting the bank’s payment application onto SIM cards for use with the Galaxy S III. Australian telco Optus would be issuing the NFC SIMs. The bank said it would add more users.

In both this trial and likely the one involving Vodafone, users can tap to pay for purchases of up to A$100 (US$103.77) without entering a PIN code or signing a receipt.

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